The shades of autumn are muted in Florida, but fall comes just the same. In fact, it arrived one morning last week and I left the house delighted to find the air wasn't as sticky. The breeze was more refreshing, less like dog breath.
More than the weather, food magazines and grocery produce bins signal the start of fall for Floridians. Pears and seasonal apples such as Galas and Golden Delicious appear, along with pumpkins and all manner of strangely shaped winter squash. Some, like the turban squash, seem more the handiwork of a milliner than a farmer. Others are the colors of the changing leaves, perhaps our only connection to the seasonal ebb tide of Northern trees.
And even though Floridians are year-round grillers and shorts-wearers, the abundance of harvest produce certainly puts us in the mind of longer, more lush, cooking. Out with the salads, in with the stews.
Pears and apples are good company in baked desserts, but can also be baked alongside pork roasts or chops. Don't overlook apple cider or pear nectar as a way to sweeten sauces and vinaigrettes.
Winter squash is a versatile ingredient, too. When cooked, most are slightly sweet, sort of a cross between a starchy potato and a sweet potato. The flesh is usually silky smooth except in the case of spaghetti squash, which is stringy like pasta. Winter squash, unlike summer zucchini and yellow crookneck, have tough outer skin that's not meant to be eaten. Peel before cooking or roast with the skin, the buttery flesh eaten much like a baked potato.
My favorite winter squash is acorn, and I subscribe to a very simple preparation method. Because the tough guys can be difficult to cut in half, I pierce the skin a few times with a sharp knife and microwave on high for about 5 minutes. This softens the squash enough to halve without risking losing a finger.
Place the squash, seeds and all, cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet spritzed with nonstick spray and roast for about an hour at 350 degrees. You'll know when the squash is done because the halves begin to implode and are soft to the touch. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove seeds and scoop flesh into a bowl. Add butter and season with salt and pepper. To me, that's autumn at it's simplest. For more challenging preparations of harvest produce, try these recipes. Some you might want to tuck away for Thanksgiving dinner.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.
| Common winter squash
Ever wonder what those alien-shaped things in the produce section are? Here's a guide.
Bright orange, creamy flesh; not stringy. Thinner skin can be peeled easily, and cubes add flavor and nutrition to casseroles and soups.
A favorite for stuffing. Yellow-orange flesh is slightly sweet, if a little watery. Good alternative to baked potatoes.
Oval variety whose skin looks like wood grain. Also called a West Indian pumpkin. Bright orange flesh under thick skin. Roast for best results.
Similar to butternut in taste but a bit sweeter. The dark green rind has distinctive stripes that can sometimes be silver.
This has long been the dieter's substitute for pasta because the stringy flesh separates into long strands when scraped out with a fork after cooking. Best cut in half, seeded and baked.
It's for more than pumpkin pie. Peel and use chunks in vegetable soups or puree to fill homemade raviolis.
Aptly named, because it looks like a hat. Turbans can be baked, steamed or simmered, and also look mighty fine in a table centerpiece.
An elongated, striped variety that usually weighs less than 1 pound. Yellow, sweet flesh.
| Janet K. Keeler
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar, divided
4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, or 1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger and ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut up, at room temperature
Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter an 11 1/2- by 8-inch baking dish.
Combine the cranberries and 1 cup of the brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Cook until the cranberries burst, about 5 minutes. Pour into the prepared dish. Let stand to cool until tepid, about 15 minutes.
Mix together the pears, the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the flour, lemon juice and pumpkin pie spice. Pour over the cranberries and dot with the butter.
To make the topping, mix together the oats, brown sugar, flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and rub everything together with your fingers until combined. Press the mixture together into a cohesive mass. Crumble in a relatively even layer over the pears. Place on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any bubbling juices).
Bake until the juices are bubbling and the topping is crisp, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool until it is just warm, and serve with the ice cream.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: Autumn Gatherings by Rick Rodgers (William Morrow, 2008)
Butternut Squash Bake
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch cubes (3 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces dried extra-wide noodles
4 tablespoons butter, divided
6 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 (8-ounce) tub mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, snipped, divided
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 cup panko (Japanese-style) bread crumbs or soft bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In bowl toss squash in oil; place in oiled 15- by 10-inch baking pan. Roast, uncovered, 30 minutes, until lightly browned and tender, stirring twice.
Meanwhile, in Dutch oven cook noodles according to package directions. Drain; set aside. In same Dutch oven melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add shallots; cook and stir over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until shallots are tender and butter just begins to brown. Stir in lemon juice.
Add noodles and squash to shallot mixture. Stir in mascarpone, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1/4 cup parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Transfer to greased 2-quart oval gratin dish or baking dish.
In small saucepan melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter; stir in bread crumbs and remaining Parmesan, parsley. Sprinkle on noodle mixture. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes, until crumbs are golden.
Nutritional information per serving: 413 calories, 26g fat (13g saturated), 278mg sodium, 37g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 15g protein.
Source: Better Homes and Gardens
Pork Tenderloin With Apple Cider Reduction
2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins, cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Heat oven to 500 degrees and arrange rack in the upper third.
Pat pork tenderloins dry with paper towels, brush with oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork tenderloins and cook until brown on all sides, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Set pork aside on a baking sheet and repeat with remaining pieces.
Place pork in oven and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle of the tenderloin registers 145 to 150 degrees, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, place pan over high heat, add cider and vinegar and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until mixture is reduced by two-thirds, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, stir in maple syrup and remove from heat until pork is cooked.
When pork is ready, remove to a cutting board to rest about 5 minutes. Warm sauce over medium-high heat, add pork and any accumulated juices and spoon sauce over meat to completely coat. When pork is warm, put it on a cutting board and slice thinly. Serve with pan sauce spooned over.
Serves 4 to 5.
Source: Food Network
Winter Squash Soup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno chilies, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 pounds winter squash, such as butternut or acorn, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups chicken stock or water
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup grated Manchego or Pecorino Romano cheese
Melt the butter in a large stockpot over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, jalapeno and salt and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the squash and stock and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is falling apart and soup is thickened slightly.
Puree soup with an immersion blender, or use a blender and return soup to a clean pan. Add the milk and heat gently. Stir in the cheese and adjust the seasonings.
Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Food Network
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup walnut oil (see note)
2 large eggs
2 carrots, peeled and shredded (1 cup)
1 Golden Delicious or Gala apple, peeled, cored and shredded (1 cup)
½ cup dried currants or raisins
½ cup toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
4 ounces (half of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, room temperature
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.
In large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
Using electric mixer on high speed, mix granulated sugar, vegetable and walnut oils, and eggs until mixture is a shade paler, about 1 minute. Stir in flour mixture, then carrots and apple. Fold in currants and walnuts. Using an ice cream scoop, divide batter evenly among muffin cups.
Bake in preheated oven until toothpick inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cupcakes stand in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
To make icing, place cream cheese in medium bowl. Using electric mixer on low speed, gradually beat in powdered sugar, working it into cream cheese until icing is smooth. Beat in lemon juice.
Spread icing over cupcakes. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Note: If you don't have walnut oil, use more vegetable oil.
Source: Autumn Gatherings by Rick Rodgers (William Morrow, 2008)